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2016 Ride Across America

Day 4 - Moab, UT to Durango, CO - 320 miles
Monday, August 15, 2016

This morning I wanted to re-visit Arches NP and travel further north in the park to at least the Fiery Furnace area, then attempt to see Delicate Arch before travelling on to Durango, CO for the night.

I could see from the view across the parking lot the Denney's next door was overflowing, and I've never been impressed with the speed of their wait staff and kitchens, so I decided I wouldn't attempt it.  I wanted to get going as early as I could, as it would be a long day to Durango given the number of possible view points to see in the park and along the way.  I walked down to the Super 8 dining room and holy crap, it was overflowing with a number of families and other guests all waiting in line for both less than glorious free breakfast fair and/or tables, so I grabbed a bowl of dry cereal, a banana, and a couple of breakfast bars and headed back to the room.  I went back to the park without checking out as I had allotted myself enough time to get back and pack up before 11:00 AM.

The first pictures below are GPS maps.  Yellow is the color of the day.  The first are from the tracks I made in the park that morning.  The second are the tracks from the entire day.

I stopped along the road into the park to take a couple of pictures of the Petrified Dunes again.  Then I rode to an overlook to the Salt Valley which is a sizable east to west gash in the park that has some interesting features.  They were more like rounded "cow pies" and with "bee hives" on the upper layer.  I made it as far as Fiery Furnace and took a few pictures on my way back to the Delicate Arch area.  The parking lot there was absolutely full, and the road beyond the parking lot was closed for some reason.  It was getting very warm, and with riding boots on and a long way to go for the day, I decided to skip the 1.5 mile hike and get on the road.

I rode back into Moab and gassed up before heading towards Durango on Hwy-128.  Take a look back on the Day 4 Arches map.  You will see a really cool thing is that Hwy-128 runs east below Arches NP following the Colorado river.  I didn't realise that when I planned the route.  It turned out to be a really great road for motorcycles.  It's hilly, curvy and has spectacular views of the canyon walls.  The only problems are: 1) there are very turnouts that a motorcycle can safely take on the side of the road due to loose and slanted gravel, and 2) there are number of bicyclists on the road for the first several miles that you need to look out for.  There are a number of day use areas or campgrounds along the river, but the entrances are almost always sand and/or gravel, and I had little confidence on a heavily loaded motorcycle to risk the effort.  I did see a couple of jet boats running up the river, and I eventually pulled over trying to get a quick movie of them, but I failed.

Hwy-128 slowly climbs back to 4,900 feet and changes to flattened high desert before reaching the abandoned town of Cisco which is close to I-70.  I turned right (east) at Cisco and rode by abandoned homes, trailers, and farm equipment.  The state of the town matched the change in the highway - it was rough and full of tar snakes for the last 8 miles.  By the time I reached I-70 I was ready for a break.  I was hot again and needed to hydrate and have a snack before hitting the interstate.  I soaked my vest, and then hit I-70 eastbound again.

In another 17 miles I crossed the border into Colorado and entered my first new state.  Grand Junction is THE sizable city in west central Colorado, and is just 30 miles east of the border.  It seemed to be the perfect place to have lunch and gas up for the final 200 miles to Durango, CO.  Somehow, my GPS and I had a "misunderstanding" that in retrospect occured a number of times over the next two months.  While I planned my routes to avoid interstates, (and that worked when in sparse areas), when you get to metropolitan areas, the darn thing does its best to put you on siding roads and doesn't care how many industrial truck lots and traffic lights there are on those.  I quickly overheated again and attempted to find some shade to park under and check my route.  My one lasting rememberce of Grand Junction is a complete lack of trees and shade.  I eventually found a shady siding, got out my laptop and reprogrammed the GPS.  I found a Wendy's in a mall, I cooled off, and made two more wrong turns before escaping Grand Junction south on US-50.

After the preceeding ordeal in Grand Junction I had not gassed up, so after about 40 miles on a decent and lightly driven US-50, I arrived in the small town of Delta, CO where I gassed up and stocked up on snacks and water.  I wetted the vest again and continued another 20 miles and passed through traffic that seemed to come from nowhere in Montrose, CO.  This was a city I would return through in a few days.  US-50 turns east in Montrose, and US-550 continues south.  I travelled south to Durango. 

Once out of Montrose I noticed the landscape was turning much greener.  The high desert was falling away, replaced by real grasses and trees, and occasional farms. We'd risen from about 4,500 feet to 6,000 feet.  The road changed from divided highway to two lane, the air cooled down and my riding became spirited and a lot of fun.  In the next 30 miles the forest closed in on the road and rising to 8,000 feet out of nowhere this town of Ouray showed up.  Wow.  Like a Leavenworth coming out of the Cascades back home, but this was a genuine old western town with history, not a fake Bavaria, and it was going into the mountains.  It was awesome.  A tourist trap?  Yes, but genuine.  Parking the bike was no joke.  The town sits at the bottom of a bowl of spectacular mountains, capable of getting hit with the runoff of torrential rains and snow, so the main street was convexly shaped with deep and high curbs, and its diagonal parking spaces all pointed into the curbs.  Add to that, the main street was climbing quite steadily, and feeling comfortable about parking a bike down hill with the kickstand into the slope brought visions of disaster if the transmission got kicked out of gear, or trying to back out of one of these traps.  Side streets were even worse.  The up-hill streets were gravel and steep, and the down-hill streets ran to the river.  No thanks.

I walked the streets and the shops for a bit taking pictures of the mountains around it and the buildings that were older than dirt.  I found out that Ouray was the start of "The Million Dollar Highway" that lay ahead.  I'd studied for this trip.  Why didn't I know about this in particular?  Here are some select pictures of Ouray.

Time again to hit the road.  Durango was some 60 miles away, and there were mountain roads ahead to discover.

Oh My!  This is where things get exciting! 

You saw the mountains surrounding this place.  How do you think you get out of here?  Right,... you go UP.

First, a couple pictures of Ouray after ONE turn.

(Notice where the bike is parked to get a picture.  Scared the heck out of me.  Think I peed a little.  The loose gravel was sloped towards a vertical drop straight into somebody's back yard.  It looks like it is gradual, but no, straight down a hundred feet or more.  Stablizing the heavy bike and dismounting from the left without sliding while keeping the bike upright was terrifying.  Getting back on was worse.  I swore if I could get back on the road, I wouldn't do something like this again - but I lied.)

Next are some GPS pictures.  Once underway, I was mesmerized by the road and scenery.  I didn't stop to take photos for a long time.  This was of course a two lane road, filled full of switchbacks and extreme elevation changes, not only of the road itself, but of the terrifying sides of the road it was carved out of.  There are mostly with no guard rails or barriers at all.  There are a number of tight 300 - 340 degree switchbacks, and not many turnouts at all usable by motorcycles.  I think at the time, I was remembering my last stop pretty vividly and didn't want to try that again.

Besides being called "The Million Dollar Highway" this part of US-550 is also called the "San Juan Skyway" after the name of the National Forest this road travels through.

The first picture below is one of the pure elevation change over the track's distance.  This track starts on the left in Grand Junction (4,553') and Durango is on the far right (6,496').  The first marker @ 8,029' is Ouray, and the top elevation @ 11,103' is on Black Bear Pass, about 10 miles before Silverton.  The bottom of the dip @ 9,260' is Silverton itself, and the next peak is Molas Pass @ 10,910'.  

The other pictures in this set attempt to show the horizontal layout of US-550.  After the last of them is shown, the road tames down and eventually becomes relatively straight and the number of resorts and small towns gradually increases as you reach Durango.

One last set of pictures for the day.  This is from the one place I stopped on US-550 after Ouray.  It was at Molas Pass Summit where an actual rest stop was available, and since I hadn't relieved myself since lunch in Grand Junction, it was a manditory stop !!!

I pulled into Durango at 6:00 PM and headed directly to the Super 8 I had reserved for a couple of days on the south side of town on Hwy-160.  Still on a riding high, I unloaded my gear then headed for a liquor store about a half mile south at a mall across the Animas River before it closed, and then headed back.,  I supplimented my riding snacks with more vending machine fare, and relaxed in the motel room while posting on Facebook, eating Cheetos and trail mix with a vodka/Dr. Pepper cocktail, and began planning the next day's ride.